Researchers from King’s College London are about to embark on the biggest ever independent study involving cannabis. The team working on the Cannabis & Me study will use data collected from 6000 participants with varying degrees of cannabis use, and will also include participants who have no history of cannabis use at all.
The broad purpose of the £2.5 million study is to research the effects of cannabis on the brain and the body. Using a combination of specific techniques involving virtual reality, psychological and cognitive analysis, and DNA testing, scientists also hope to be able to uncover tell-tale markers that may help doctors pinpoint those who may be at risk of suffering mental health problems after using cannabis.
Dr Marta Di Forti is the lead researcher on the project. Dr Di Forti is one of the most highly regarded researchers in the field of cannabis and psychosis. She has published many papers on the link between cannabis and psychosis and has also developed, with funding from the Maudsley Charity, the first and only clinic in the UK for patients with cannabis-related psychosis.
Dr Di Forti was awarded the prestigious MRC Senior Clinical Scientist Fellowship in 2020, which according to her biography on the KCL website “provides a unique opportunity to bring together genetics, epigenetics, peripheral levels of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids, alongside Virtual Reality social scenario-exposure data from current heavy cannabis users and young adults suffering their first psychotic episode.”
Due to the conclusions drawn from some of her past papers, and her patient-focused role at the Cannabis Clinic for Patients with Psychosis, some cannabis activists have raised concerns that the data from the Cannabis & Me study could be skewed in favour of a conclusion that suggests that there is a direct causal link between psychosis and cannabis use.
Speaking to leafie, Dr Di Forti addressed the issue: “This is a fair point, though my research does not develop from my own beliefs on cannabis but from my interaction with the young people I see in my clinic every week, the questions they raise, their doubts and concerns. I am aware that this group of young people represent a minority among cannabis users and not all.
“Nevertheless, it is the minority I care for as a clinician and for whom I am committed to make a difference. This is why my research has focused on the link between cannabis use and psychosis, not because I believe this is the full story. I guess if I were a liver physician who sees patients with liver cirrhosis and alcohol dependence I would be focusing on the adverse effects of alcohol use, despite the fact not everyone who drinks alcohol develops problems.”
Dr Di Forti also clarified that her previous work led her to seek a deeper understanding about those who use cannabis and don’t experience adverse effects. “The focus of this new study is to welcome all current cannabis users, in fact, I am interested primarily in those using cannabis for medicinal or recreational use who are coming to no harm but indeed getting from it only pleasure/benefit. Ultimately, we shall compare not only psychological but also biological data that might help to explain why a minority of cannabis users develop psychosis and how we can we screen them apart from everyone else. This might allow us to understand better the biology of how cannabis compounds interact with our endocannabinoid system, genetic and epigenetic to produce the variety of effects we see, the one I am concerned about and the one you are interested in.”
Concluding, Di Forti welcomed the questions from the cannabis community and committed to sharing the findings. “I welcome always the opportunity to exchange ideas and criticism can only improve my work. This research is open to those who in fact disagree with what my work has shown so far and I hope that it will create more collaboration from both sides of the argument rather than further divisions. We can advance science only if we collaborate.”
Dr Di Forti and her research team encourage you to join in their study if you are between the ages of 18 and 45, reside in the London region, and are either actively using cannabis, have never used cannabis or have used it fewer than three times in your lifetime.
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